The latest test scores under the federal mandate known as No Child Left Behind should provide a shot in the arm for Hawaii educators.
According to statistics released Tuesday, the number of students proficient in reading and math during the 2011-2012 school year increased by 6,000 compared to a year ago. More than 96,000 students in grades 3 through 10 participated in the NCLB assessments.
Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi believes Hawaii is reaping the benefits of a full decade under the law enacted by Congress in 2001
"So that a student moving through the system is really seeing that sort of seamless transition from grade to grade, from school to school," said Matayoshi. "We are finally really in a standards based environment that focuses on proficiency."
According to the latest NCLB results, 71 percent of students in grades 3 through 10 were proficient in reading, a 4-percent improvement from the previous school year. Math scores also increased, with 59 percent of kids testing at a proficient level, compared to 55 percent a year earlier.
Meanwhile, 133 schools statewide achieved Annual Yearly Progress goals, up 41 percent from the 117 schools that met AYP benchmarks the previous school year. That means 53 percent of 286 public schools were unable to meet AYP goals for reading and math, which may reflect on the increasing standards under NCLB.
"It's always going to be tough as long as those benchmarks move up without any reference to where schools are now," said Matayoshi.
To achieve AYP under NCLB’s rating system, schools must meet all targets in 37 areas (45 for high schools) defined by ethnicity, higher poverty levels, limited English proficiency, special education needs, as well as elementary or middle school retention or high school graduation rates. 59 schools missed the AYP benchmark by only one or two targets.
Moanalua Middle School had been under restructuring for the past three years before finally meeting its AYP goals during the 2011-2012 school year. Principal Lisa Nagamine told KITV4 the school focused on student assessments, curriculum and classroom instruction – initiatives implemented statewide under a Race to the Top federal grant.
"A lot of our teachers are really reflecting on their own teaching in the classroom, and their instruction in the classroom and then how do they get better," said Nagamine.
One of the initiatives instituted by Moanalua Middle involved lumping higher-learning math students into one classroom. That allowed the classroom size for the remaining math students to become smaller, allowing for closer collaboration among teachers.
"The teachers now can make sure that the whole instruction goes across the board," said Al Perez, middle school coordinator at Moanalua Middle. "They collaborate together grade level wise."
Currently, 11 public schools are planning for restructuring under NCLB, and 83 are under or will undergo restructuring.
But, Matayoshi believes the AYP benchmark under No Child Left Behind is one of the weaknesses of the federal law. She says it unfairly labels schools as failing, even if they miss benchmarks by one or two targets.
"Both the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, are looking at new ways to look at student success," said Matayoshi. "The ability to take information and apply it to knowledge, that's really the key if students are going to succeed in the real world."
Political observers say any congressional action on NCLB is unlikely until after the presidential election in November.